Wednesday, June 10, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, song-and-dance before Congress on corruption, the State Dept gets pressed on the persecution of Iraq's LGBT community, Iraq police apparently helped in the slaughter of 5 US soldiers (and, oh yeah, this relates to the prisoner the US just turned over to Iraq), and more.
A new bombing results in massive fatalities. BBC Radio reported on the bombing earlier today.
Mike Cooper: A car bomb has exploded in southern Iraq killing at least 28 people around 40 others were wounded. Nicholas Witchell has more from Baghdad.
Nicholas Witchell: The explosion happened in a crowded market in al Bathaa about 30 kilometers west of Nasiriyah one of the main cities in southern Iraq. This is a Shi'ite area which has been relatively free from violence in recent months. No group has said it carried out the attack but Sunni insurgents aligned to al Qaeda will inevitably be expected. Iraq is more peaceful now but there are concerns that insurgent groups may be trying to take advantage of the current withdrawal of US troops from Iraq's towns and cities to try to provoke renewed sectarian conflict.
Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) explains, "The area has been the scene of violence between Shiite militias that have fought each other." Anne Barker (Australia's ABC -- text and a video clip from Lateline) reports, "The bomb ripped through a crowded market place in a Shiite Muslim town near Nassairya, in southern Iraq. Children are said to be among the dead." Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the wounded number over seventy-five. BBC video shows the remains of a charred car and a street being hosed down as people cry and hug one another and an angry male waives a blood soaked cloth at the camera. Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) quotes survivor Abu Sara stating, "It felt as if there was an earthquake beneath me." Sky News reports, "The police chief in Bathaa, a predominantly Shia Muslim town 25 miles west of Nasiriyah, has been fired following the attack. Angry residents protested when he arrived at the scene of the explosion with the local governor." How angry? Rod Nordland (New York Times) reports the crowd "began stoning the police, blaming them for lax secuirty." Al Jazeera quotes eye witness Hussein Salim declaring, "The police neglected their job. How could the car enter the market? It was crowed with people." The Telegraph of London notes that "an inquiry has been launched to determine whether the police could have prevented the bombing." The United Nations' Staffan de Mistura has declared the bombing "a cruel crime against innocent civilians that aims to derail Iraq' stability." 35 is the numbr many outlets are going with for the dead (the UN is also going with 35). CBS News offers a video report here.
Charlie D'Agata: Iraqis tried to console each other after a violent bomb blast robbed them of the people they loved. Police say the car bomb tore through a crowded market about 200 miles south of Baghdad. Dozens are dead -- including several women and children. Many more wounded. 'People were just sitting there selling their goods,' he says, 'then the bomb went off.' The attack comes just weeks before the US forces are due to withdraw from major towns and cities in Iraq. It's the deadliest blast to hit the area in almost six years. Nobody has taken responsibility but a number of recent assaults have been blamed on Sunni militants linked to al Qaeda. Many fear as America pulls back its troops militants will step in and step up their attacks. Charlie D'Agata, CBS News.
"They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it." That's Danny Chism quoted by Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) yesterday. We noted it in yesterday's snapshot and Danny Chism's son, the late Jonathan Bryan Chism, is in the news today. McClatchy Newspapers buries a major story by Richard Mauer entitled "Who was behind Karbala assualt, in which 5 Americans died." January 23, 2007 the Department of Defense announced that four US soldiers "died in Jan 20 in Karbala, Iraq, from wounds sustained when their patrol was ambushed while conducting dismounted operations." The four were identified as Jacob N. Fritz, Jonathan B. Chism, Shawn P. Falter and Johnathon M. Millican. Also killed in the attack was Brian S. Freeman. Bryan Chism was from Louisiana and WAFB reported January 31, 2007 that the military was "trying to cover up the details of an incident in Iraq," that the four "were actually abducted from a tightly-secured American compound by an insurgent commando team. The insurgents were driving American vehicles, wearing American uniforms and carrying American weapons. In fact, on eof the kidnappers is reported to have even had blonde hair." Over two years later, Richard Mauer has uncovered additional details. "The men inside were dressed in U.S. army camouflage and carried American weapons," he reports. "They knew enough English to bark simple commands and offer polite greetings. They knew exactly how the U.S. soldiers would defend the compound. They knew that the compound's most important room was the command and control center -- with its radio base stations -- and they knew that at 6 p.m., the soldiers in the room would be off guard and relaxing. They even knew that the two most senior American officers in Karbala would be in the room next door." Via a Freedom of Information request, McClatchy just obtained an investigative report by the military which was completed February 27th and which "put the onus for intelligence-gathering and ground support [in the attack] on Iraqi police, America's supposed ally. Not only were police negligent in surrendering their guard positions to the intruders without firing a shot or warning the Americans, the report says, but investigators found strong circumstantial evidence that police officials gave the attackers key intelligence and may have been complicit in allowing an advance force of attackers into the compound."
Now drop back to yesterday's news. The US military traded the Iraqi prisoner said to be responsible for the murders -- traded him for five British hostages. Laith al-Khazali was traded. Was freed. Which is why Danny Chism was asking, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it." At Bryan's MySpace page, his brother Steve left this message May 25th:
Sup bro? Well its memorial day and it sucks pretty bad to still not have you here. We miss you alot, dad says he misses you too and thinks about you all the time. Seems like people are starting to forget about you or something, wtf, the last comment you got was a month ago, i dk, maybe people are just busy these days. Well R.I.P. and remember your gunna be an uncle in a few more months. Love you bro and miss you alot.
His brother remembers him. His family remembers him. The government that sent him to Iraq? They apparently don't give a damn. They didn't even have the decency to give his family a heads up before releasing his presumed killer.
Five US citizens were arrested in Iraq over the weekend allegedly as part of the investigation into the murder of Jim Kitterman in the Green Zone last month. The US government and the Iraqi government refused to identify the five. John Feeney told the press the five included his father Donald Feeney Jr. and his brother Donald Feeney III. John Feeney has repeatedly maintained to various news outlets that his brother and father were innocent. CNN reports that one has been released today and the other four are due to be released shortly. Michael Christie (Reuters) identifies the released as Don Feeney Jr. and identifies those still held as Don "Buddy" Feeney (John's brother), Mark Bridges, Jason Jones and Micah Milligan. Christie does not report that the other four are due to be released.
Spency Ackerman -- the never-ending joke. The man The New Republic dumped (how bad do you have to be to get fired by The New Republic? Seriously) showed up this morning at 10:18 thrilled with Alissa J. Rubin's article in the New York Times and excited over the July referendum. Poor Spency The Spazz, this morning (long bfore he posted) it was already known that the referendum had been moved to January. In fact, we'll just quote ourselves from this morning for the topic Rubin was reporting on. In this morning's New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin offers "Iraq Moves Ahead With Vote on U.S. Security Pact" and that's the problem with print, her article's already out of date. Alsumaria reports, "Cabinet spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh announced that the government plans to conduct a referendum on the security pact signed between Baghdad and Washington in parallel with general elections." Rubin's report rests on the vote taking place in July. The vote has been pushed back to January. (Presuming general elections are held in January. They were supposed to be held in December but got pushed back to January. Who knows if they'll be pushed back again?)
Rubin's covering the Status Of Forces Agreement. The Iraqi Parliament voted on it Thanksgiving Day in 2008. 149 members of Parliament voted for the treaty. There are 275 members of Parliament. The treaty then went to the country's Presidency Council for the vote. The SOFA passed in the Parliament due to many members going AWOL and due to those present insisting on a national referendum to give the Iraqi people a voice on the issue. That referendum was supposed to take place next month. Rubin reports:
But senior lawmakers appeared to think that a change in the date was unlikely. Under current law, the referendum would be held on July 30. In order to change the date, the cabinet would have to submit a new draft law on the timing of the vote to Parliament, which would then have to move it through the lengthy parliamentary process for considering legislation.
"The date was an essential part of the security agreement," said Ali Adeeb, a member of the Dawa Party, led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
The Parliament speaker, Ayad al-Sammaraie, a Sunni lawmaker from the Iraqi Islamic Party, held the same view. "No one can say they don't want a referendum, it is a law," Mr. Sammaraie said in a recent interview.
Rubin refers to how a vote against the SOFA would mean that a year from now the US would be forced out of Iraq. She's referring to Article 30 The Period for which the Agreement is Effective, paragraph three: "This Agreement shall terminate one year after a Party provides written notification to the other Party to that effect." The parties are the US and Iraq. The 'binding' contract was never binding ( "This Agreement shall be amended only with the official agrement of the Parties in writing and in accordance with the constitutional proceudures in effect in both countries."). Only the first year could be seen as such and even then it could be altered in terms of details. 2009 was only binding in that it would cover 2009 (meaning that even if the Iraqi government declared January 2, 2009 "We are breaking this agreement!" they would be bound to it for one year). As Rubin notes there is hostility to US forces. She offers that only the Kurds might vote strongly in favor of the SOFA -- and that this expectation might result in increasing Arabic objection to the SOFA.
Yesterday Boston's The Edge offered Seth Michael Donsky's "Life Only Gets Worse for LGBT Iraqis :: Part 2" (click here for the earlier part one):
Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch's LGBT Rights Program, substantiates the claim that Iraqi government is tacitly encouraging the violence by ignoring the victims and overlooking the perpetuators. "It's true," he says, " that the government has been unable to restrain violence in the past, particularly during the virtual civil war of 2004-2007--but it has a vested interest in denying widespread violence directed at any group is returning in the supposedly 'stabilized' Iraq."
In early April, the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, in response to questions from the Western media and from Western embassies in Baghdad, acknowledged that gays were being killed, but claimed that is was all the consequence of familial, or tribal, violence.
"It was a pro forma acknowledgement," says Long. Long believes the acknowledgement was primarily meant to distract attention from the organized nature of the killings and the involvement of the militias.
As recently as two weeks ago ABC news reported, in conjunction with the murder of the two young, gay men in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, that an unnamed Iraqi military source linked the killings to tribal violence and not militias. They quoted their source as saying that the men who were killed were "sexual deviants," saying that their tribes killed them to restore "family honor."
"Unfortunately," says Long, "much of the Western press, as well as LGBT activists in the US and Europe, have bought the Ministry's version and have stopped asking systematic questions about the militia's involvement or even the government's own role."
The United Nations made a statement today on the bombings. In addition the United Nations offered a statement on the death of reporter Alass Abdel-Wehab (he died last month, the UN offered their statement today). To date, they have offered no statement on any of the many gays, lesbians and transgendered Iraqis killed for who they were. They have not called out the targeting or the persecution of the LGBT community in Iraq. The US State Dept has offered lies and silence. They alternate between the two. US House Rep Jared Polis sent a letter to the then-acting US ambassador to Iraq asking that she follow up on the reports of persecution and targeting. Chris Hill is now the US Ambassador to Iraq and became it shortly after Polis' request. He has made no public statement. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) interviews him and the topic is not addressed (by either Chon or Hill) and you can click here for an edited transcript of the interview. The UK's Lesbian and Gay Foundation is calling for a march in Manchester this Saturday and they note: "There were 452 homophobic hate crime reports in Greater Manchester from 2008 to 2009. On a national level, last year alone we lost Michael Causer, Ronald Dixon and Gerry Edwards in alleged homophobic attacks. On a global scale we have seen anti gay campaigns in Iraq which have resulted in the deaths of over sixty men, Eastern European gay Pride demonstrations outlawed or broken up, and the passing of Proposition 8 in California has resulted in inequality for the state's gay population." But the UN and the State Dept remain silent as does Barry O and the White House. The White House that no longer pushes to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the White House which invites homophobes for inaugural events (just as Barry O put homophobes on stage repeatedly during his primary and general campaigns in 2007 and 2008).
Today Ian Kelly, State Dept spokesperson the BBC raised the issue: "The other week Muqtada al-Sadr said that the depravity of homosexuality must be eradicated. And while he went on to say that he was not advocating violence, there obviously has been a lot of rather gruesome violence directed at gays and lesbians in Iraq. So I was wondering if State has any reaction to that? And then off the back of that, is there any extra responsibility that the U.S. feels towards these groups who were, by their accounts, safer and more free to live their lives under Saddam?"
Ian Kelly: Well, let me say that, in general, we absolutely condemn acts of violence and human rights violations committed against individuals in Iraq because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is an issue that we've been following very closely since we have been made aware of these allegations, and we are aware of the allegations. Our training for Iraqi security forces includes instruction on the proper observance of human rights. Human rights training is also a very important part of our and other international donors' civilian capacity-building efforts in Iraq. And the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has raised and will continue to raise the issue with senior officials from the Government of Iraq, and has urged them to respond appropriately to all credible reports of violence against gay and lesbian Iraqis.
Human rights traning is not, as the State Dept does it, LGBT rights training. That's covered in Seth Michael Donsky's "Life Only Gets Worse for LGBT Iraqis :: Part 2" and Ian Kelly knows that and chose to use 'human rights training' as a smokescreen. It's a real shame that the press refuses to explore the issue and that when it's finally raised we get more tired questions on the same never-ending issues that have been asked at the US State Dept for over thirty years now. Truly appalling. Is the press corps on automatic?
Turning to some of today's other reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report a Baghdad mortar attack which left four people wounded, another Baghdad mortar attack which hit a home and also wounded four and a Kirkuk explosion which killed 2 people (possibly two people placing a bomb in the road for others to die from). Reuters notes a Falluja roadside bombing which left two police officers injured. Telegraph of London notes a Falluja motorcycle bombing which left five people wounded. Yesterday a Falluja motorcycle bombing left nine injured.
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report 1 police officer wounded by sniper fire in Mosul.
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report 1 corpse discovered in Mosul.
Today the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan released [PDF format warning] "At What Cost? Contingency Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan Interim Report June 2009" which found:
** Neither the military nor the federal civilian acquisition workforces have
expanded to keep pace with recent years' enormous growth in the number and
value of contingency contracts.
** Contracting agencies must provide better and more timely training for
employees who manage contracts and oversee contractors' performance. In
particular, members of the military assigned to perform on‐site performance
oversight as contracting officer's representatives often do not learn of the
assignment until their unit arrives in theater, and then find insufficient time and
Internet access to complete necessary training.
** Contract auditors are not employed effectively in contingency contracting.
** Contracting officials make ineffective use of contract withhold provisions
recommended by their auditors, and many contract audit findings and
recommendations are not properly resolved.
** The government still lacks clear standards and policy on inherently
governmental functions. This shortcoming has immediate salience given the
decisions to use contractors in armed‐security and life‐support tasks for military
Robert O'Harrow Jr. (Washington Post) observes of the report, "It's a sad reminder about just how bad the contracting system has been in recent years, and all the billions that have been wasted because of poor oversight, poor planning and plain old corruption." The report actually offers some blame as opposed to the usual pretend no one could have forseen the problems: "The Department of Defense has failed to provide enough staff to perform adequate contract oversight." US House Rep Stephen Lynch put it more bluntly today, "It's only happening because it's taxpayers' dollars." Exactly. The co-chairs of the Commission on Wartime Contracting, Michael Thibault and Chistopher Shays, appeared before the the US House Oversight and Government Reform's National Security Subcommittee and that's where Lynch made his remark. The co-chairs reviewed the report in their testimony and classified as an "immediate concern" the possibility that waste will take place as US forces draw down in Iraq as a result of lack of oversight and the handling and disposing of property. In Iraq, there is also a shortage of US government employees who posses the qualifications to monitor and supervise private security and this is on top of the fact that the 'security' is often ill trained and ignorant of the Rules for the Use of Force. US House Rep John F. Tierney chairs the committee. In his opening statements, he outlined potential problems (I'd say they were problems):
US House Rep John Tierney: It is also important that the Commission break new ground. There is no sense in creating an oversight entity that merely duplicates work that is on-going by Inspectors General or the Government Accountability Office. Congress already receives those reports. I look forward to hearing what the Commission is finding that we have not already heard about. In short, I expect our witnesses this morning to ensure us that our investment in their activities was a worthwhile decision. We in Congress --as the sponsors of the Commission -- need to hear about any challenges or hindrances the Commission faces in conducting its work. For example, I am concerned that the Commission will not be able to fulfill its mandate without a semi-permanent presence in theater. I would note that, according to the report, the Commission has only made two trips to date to Iraq and Afghanistan. I am also concerned that the current one year mandate of the Commission might allow responsible government officials and culpable contractors to wait it out. The Commission's charge is too important to suffer defeat at the hands of obstruction. Furthermore, I do not want to see a lack of subpoena power deter the Commission from going after recalcitrant parties.
Two trips? December '08 was the first trip according to Chris Shays testimony to the Subcommittee today. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was just in Iraq last February (Feb. 26 through the first week of March). The Committee can send members there why can't the Commission? And why do their lengthy report seem to be a repeat of GAO reports? John Duncan pinned them down on the fact that they'd only visited three bases in Iraq. With no sense of awareness, let alone irony, Michael Thibault wanted to delcare that, "You have to spend the time in the country" to know what's going on in Iraq. Which leaves the Commission where?
Chair Tierney noted, "This Subcomittee stands ready to assist the Commission in this regard as appropriate." It's not as if the Commission is denied anything. But it really does appear to be a whitewash and an attempt to run out the clock. Jeff Flake, Ranking Member, would state in his opening remarks that "there's never too much oversight that can be done" and that may be true in theory but equally true is that the Comission was not set up to offer retreads of GAO reports. Tierney noted that the Committee points to suggestions that have not been enacted and pointed out that knowing why they weren't being implemented (legislation inaction, not enough hearings, etc) would be helpful. (Translation, Committee, that's your job.) Thibault noted there were 1200 plus recommendations and stated they do intend to trace each one, to start tracing each one. To start. Some day, I suppose. As The Mighty Mighty Bosstones once put it. Under questioning from Flake, Thibault admitted all the 1200 were from other bodies.
Along with the two co-chairs, Commission members Charles Tiefer and Grant S. Green also offered testimony on the first panel. Tierney had all the witnesses sworn in before any testimony was offered -- a detail many subcommittees and committees tend to skip (but shouldn't). Tiefer's response to the Subcommittee about wrapping things up as the US prepares to turn the lights off may go to the problems with the Commission. And it might help for someone to inform Tierney that the US will NOT be turning out the lights in Iraq when they leave (whenver that is) because Iraq is a country with its own population and Tiefer's remarks were as irritating as his deeply nasal voice.
"We're absolutely going to do that," said Tierney. About looking into contracts. They're going to do that. They're going to look into contracts. They're going to look into the recommendations and the status on each, they're going to . . . . What do they actually do? This wasn't a meeting to discuss projections, this was a hearing to discuss what they had done and what they'd learned and the reality was that they really had not done a great deal. And that may go to why so few members of the Subcomittee bothered to show up for the hearing.
Republican John Duncan noted that "very few people are willing to vote against anything the Defense Department wants" and that this reluctance appears to continue even in the face of revelations of contract abuse and more. And he is correct. He pointed out:
According to the Congressional Research Service, we're now spending, when we add in the regular budget, the supplemental bills and we're getting ready to vote on another supplemental bill here either this week or a few days and yet in the emergency appropriations and all the money that they throw into the omnibus -- according to the CRS -- we're spending more on defense than all the other nations in the world combined and it seems to me that a lot of it is generated because the defense contractors hire all the retired admirals and generals and then they caught the revolving door at the Pentagon. But somebody is going to have to -- I don't think we can just keep on wasting and blowing money in the way that we're doing.
Tierney also expressed puzzlement over why the report did not first go to the Subcommittee members and not released by the press until the hearing. AP had the report on Sunday.
On war spending, Perry Bacon Jr. (Washington Post) reports US Senator Lindsey Graham states he will block the supplemental if a non-related provision isn't in it. [Graham and US Senator Joe Lieberman are attempting to force in a measure which would allow Barry O to refuse to release torture photos.] Graham states he will block the bill. Graham is threatening, pay attention, to do what US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claimed could not be done, claimed for the last two years could not be done. It could always be done. The Democrats could have blocked spending any time they wanted to.
Finally Alsumaria reports on allegations that the US is preventing corruption investigations in Iraq: "Head of the integrity commission Rahim Al Ugaili criticized US authorities for not assisting in the investigations of probable corruption by US officials and companies in the wake of 2003. Al Ugaili considered that US officials and contractors' immunity from Iraqi law has prevented the commission from investigating into the spending of Iraqi funds by the coalition power. He added that Iraq is cooperating with the US inspector in exchanging intelligence; yet, the cooperation is unilateral Iraqi wise."
Quickly, Gloria Feldt offers her thoughts on the assassination of Dr. George Tiller here. In addition, she's hosting a pre-Father's Day panel June 20th at Brooklyn Museum to discuss the women's movement and how it has changed men and women. The panel begins at 2:00 pm. Among those scheduled to participate on the panel is Susan Faludi. Amy Goodman (Democracy Now! -- watch, listen or read) spoke with abortion provider Dr. Warren Hern about Dr. Tiller today and about the assault on abortion rights, democracy and more. Maria Hinojosa will speak with Dr. Hern and with Dr. Leroy Carhart to discuss terrorism and abortion rights on this week's NOW on PBS (which begins airing Friday on most PBS stations, check local listings).